135 Cooper Street
Tip toeing out of the realm of ethnic cuisine for a night, for this segment of Dishin’ It I decided to attend The Federal Restaurant located in Agawam, Massachusetts. Since living in Western Mass, I’ve been hearing locals tout about The Federal being one of the best fine dining experiences in the area. I was finally prompted to pay The Federal a visit after receiving a gift certificate for this reputable establishment. Now here’s a warning to all you price conscious diners, be prepared to shell out some serious dough when heading to the Federal. The menu is pricey so don’t expect to dine on a dime, but if you’re in the mood for a lavish meal this is the place to go.
For many years The Federal Hill Club, established in 1936 by the Moretti family of Agawam, was a highly upscale members-only dining club. The current owners Michael Presnal and Ralph Santaniello have retained the white linen elegance of The Federal, but have toned down some of the haughtiness. Inside an old Victorian-style building with white pillars in front, The Federal restaurant at first glance resembles one of those plantation homes of the south. When you walk through the front door you feel like your being transported to another era, when life was simpler and there was definitely less technology. Yet, you quickly realize this antique elegance isn’t overstated, as the interior is also infused with touches of trendy décor found in both the bar and dining area. But the white linen clothed tables are defiantly a staple of the dining area that reminds you of its four star status.
The Federal says it serves up “new American cuisine.” The menu is fresh and innovative. Head Chef Presnal prides himself on meshing contemporary culinary style with French influences. One thing I must note that tickled me during my first experience to the Federal was that many of the dishes (I’m talking about quite a few of them) included some form of mashed potatoes. Yes, mashed potatoes in dishes you would never imagine like the fried calamari a top a bed of aioli mashed potatoes and lobster bisque mixed with creamy garlic mashed potatoes. Almost every entrée comes with some sort of smashed or mashed potato or starch. Now don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate good mashed potatoes like the best of them, but this was a bit out of control.
I started my meal with the “Rhode Island calamari” appetizer with spicy cherry pepper butter and baby tomatoes. When the appetizer arrived it was smothered in a type of aioli cream sauce, which I found overly rich and soggy on top of the already fried calamari. The calamari rings were over-cooked and over-battered, which was disappointing. When I informed the waitress of my displeasure with the calamari (which happens to be one of my favorite appetizers) she kindly took the plate back to the kitchen. When she returned with a new skillet of calamari, they weren’t as over cooked, but were still drenched in this heavy buttery sauce, which I found to be a heart attack on a plate. To my dismay, I realized there was only a few calamari rings in the skillet, and mostly a bed of mashed potatoes hidden underneath the glop. Overall it was a sad dish for such a fine restaurant.
Fortunately all wasn’t lost. My spirits towards the food lifted when the waitress brought out our entrees. My friend, who accompanied me to the Federal, ordered a pan seared salmon with grilled asparagus and garlic smashed potatoes. I choose the house special for the night; grilled red snapper with couscous and mashed potatoes with an aioli sauce drizzled on top. It was absolutely delicious. At first bite I closed my eyes and let the crisp buttery red snapper tantalize my taste buds. A snapper cooked to perfection isn’t easy to find, but this one was the real McCoy. The couscous for some strange reason actually proved to be a good pair with the creamy mashed potatoes and aioli sauce. The dish was a success and reassured me that The Federal deserves its superb reputation for excellent cuisine. My friend’s salmon dish, which was very simply done, was also moist and delicious. The flavor of the fresh fish wasn’t masked by heavy seasoning and the salmon’s flaky meat was perfectly pink and glistening. A smartly prepared salmon is always a treat.
Overall my experience at The Federal was quite pleasing and delightful. The two fish dishes helped save the day, after a less than desirable appetizer. Although more informal and less pretentious then in its yesteryears, the ambiance at The Federal still maintains an air of fine dining. If your looking for a relatively romantic night out or even a nice place to gather with friends, The Federal is a good location if you don’t mind splurging a bit.